The Wrong Pieces on the Chessboard
Inspired by a few recent posts, several friends have asked me if I’ve finally “woken up” to the great political threat of wokism. In particular, they’re hoping that I’m ready to at least back the American right as the clear lesser of two evils.
I fear my response is: It’s complicated.
From a global point of view, I continue to see the American left and right as moral approximates. No doubt one is even worse than the other, but they’re both so vicious that I see little reason to precisely weigh their sins. While I disagree with the left on a larger number of issues, the American right is not merely wrong but sadistic on the single most important policy issue on Earth: immigration. If your idea of freedom is gleefully denying the vast majority of humanity the rights to live and work where they please, I am not on your side. No way, no how, nothing doing.
From a personal point of view, however, the American left has become quite bad for me. Why? Because as a university professor, the left surrounds me. As my colleague Dan Klein has conclusively documented, academia isn’t merely overwhelmingly leftist; outposts of dissent from left-wing orthodoxy are rapidly vanishing. (And don’t believe the nonsense that the median academic is “moderate.” A Bernie Sanders supporter could easily fancy himself a “moderate” when a quarter of his colleagues are self-identified “Marxists.”)
Even tenure at a public university no longer fully insulates me and my friends from thinly-veiled indoctrination and censorship. I worry that in a decade or two there will be virtually no new positions left in academia for my students, friends, and family.
Would the Right do the same if they had the chance? Plausibly, though the Right has done precious little to defund higher education to cut their foes in academia down to size. The key left-right difference, though, is this: Unlike the left, the right doesn’t have the right pieces on the chessboard to harm me personally. I could go out of my way to antagonize and insult the right, free of fear, because with few exceptions they’re not my administrators, not my colleagues, not my students, and not my customers. In contrast, when I write about the Orwellian left, friends privately warn me to shut up. And these friends have a point: Tenure doesn’t enforce itself.
How worried am I that my tenure will be revoked for political reasons – or any reasons? I’d still assign it no more than 2% for my career. Yet I’d assign a 40% chance that GMU will severely mistreat me for dissent before I die.
I say “die,” not “retire,” because thanks to tenure, I’m on the academic chessboard for life.
Oct 19 2020 at 11:50am
“…the Right has done precious little to defund higher education to cut their foes in academia down to size.”
That’s a surprising claim to me, given that government portion of funding of universities and colleges has been undergoing a secular decline over the past ca. 50 years, pushed largely by fiscal conservatives.
Oct 19 2020 at 12:46pm
A decline in government funding of just about anything will have been “pushed by fiscal conservatives”: the default non-conservative attitude is *more funding for everything*. But the decline in higher ed funding (largely by state governments) seems to have little to do with higher ed’s leftward drift, which has produced little in the way of *retaliation*.
Oct 19 2020 at 3:03pm
“…government portion of funding of universities and colleges…”
Why is would this be the right metric? If universities are getting more funding from other sources, then this says nothing about federal funding. It’s worth noting that while state funding has been going down recently, federal funding and tuition revenue have been going up (https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Revenues-by-Source-for-Higher-Education-in-billions-of-dollars-1-Other-includes_fig3_281465472).
Oct 19 2020 at 4:12pm
This is incorrect. The tuition portion might be going up but that portion is coming directly from the Feds underwriting student loans. Granted the students have to pay that off but even so if the feds were NOT underwriting these loans then these loans likely would not be even be taken. The legal status of these loans is no less a subsidy than just handing them money.
Oct 19 2020 at 8:55pm
State government funding for higher education is losing out to state funding for Medicaid and other entitlements spending. Look at California. High taxes. Not ruled by conservatives for a very long time. The California state universities are no longer well funded as they were decades ago.
Oct 27 2020 at 7:55pm
No, it’s been declining for the past 25 years, before that it was increasing.(Guess where advocates of increasing it start their graphs.) And this is only if you look at PER STUDENT funding levels, if you look at total funding, it’s up substantially.
Oct 19 2020 at 12:33pm
Hypothetically what if 500 million people from South America decided of their own free will that they should live in the United States? Would there be no barriers or friction to determine if we would allow 500 million people to pour into our country? Isn’t the long term answer to increase the standard and quality of life all over the world as opposed to just relocating people into the more affluent parts?
Oct 20 2020 at 9:18pm
I’m always so puzzled by this type of statement: “If your idea of freedom is gleefully denying the vast majority of humanity the rights to live and work where they please, I am not on your side. No way, no how, nothing doing.”
And yet, Bryan agrees that the vast majority of humans should be denied the right to live in his home. So this statement is plainly nonsense in and of itself. What he truly means must be something like “If your idea of freedom includes the existence of a sovereign nation with a right to determine who enters its borders, I am not on your side. No way, no how, nothing doing.” Am I wrong?
To be clear, I favor high levels of legal immigration. But I am staunchly opposed to open borders, practically because it would be an enormous change with uncertain consequences- which could quite certainly lead to the destruction of this nation. And ethically, because I believe sovereignty cannot exist without border control, and I do believe in at least a minarchist sovereign nation- i.e. I am not an anarchist. Thus I believe in the right of American citizens to decide through democratic mechanisms who should be allowed into the borders of the U.S. (just as they decide all other decisions to be made by the sovereign U.S.) Bryan would apparently be fine with the CCP having 300 million Chinese enter the U.S. and vote in favor of unification with China.
Oct 21 2020 at 2:12am
The libertarian position is that nations are merely administrative (in)conveniences while the private property exists per se by the homesteading principles.
The principle says that an unowned something can be owned if a person mixes his labor with it. But the principle is silent on the question of how much labor is required to be mixed for what particular resource. This information is typically provided by the state of laws of a particular polity. The libertarianism takes this for granted.
Oct 21 2020 at 12:09am
Is that really how you think it happens?
Come on, nobody will trade having some semblance of stability (home, job, familiarity) in their home country for extreme precarity in a foreign land, barring having to flee from an extreme threat like mortal persecution.
And it’s just not the case that 500 million South Americans are in that outlier situation.
People typically immigrate with some kind of plan. It’s not like these people are just going to get here and either sleep in the sands of the Mojave or start breaking into people’s homes to rest their heads.
Oct 19 2020 at 2:22pm
I agree that the right is worse on immigration and the left is worse on university administration. However, the logical implication of that seems to be that one should back university administrators on the right, but back politicians of the left, because politicians don’t control university administration but they do control immigration.
Oct 19 2020 at 3:57pm
My guess is that Bryan would say that Democrats are more anti-market than Republicans (though Trump is definitely harming this reputation), which brings us back to Bryan’s post on “moral approximates.” If this is true, then the slightly more “pro-market” view of Republicans cancels out the slight more “pro-immigration” view of Democrats in Bryan’s eyes.
Oct 19 2020 at 6:11pm
If it gets tough, please remember that many, many people outside of academia support what you’re doing.
John P Palmer
Oct 20 2020 at 8:56am
I have a blog post sitting in my “draft” folder about whether it’s okay to ask about and study racial differences in anything. It’s been sitting there for several months. Why?
I’m concerned about whether I can take the backlash personally, but relevant to this post,
I think there’s a chance that current admins at the university would do something to jeopardize my status and benefits (I’m emeritus and even with that status, I’m concerned).
Oct 20 2020 at 12:15pm
According to your own (very interesting) research, defunding higher education would be the right thing to do.
After all, education is a huge waste of resources (and I do believe this truth to be evident “after Caplan”)
Oct 20 2020 at 4:15pm
“I say “die,” not “retire,” because thanks to tenure, I’m on the academic chessboard for life.”
Bryan is 50 years old, so he should easily be in excellent health until at least 90 given the advances that are coming, but it is hard to see GMU lasting into the 2030s so no, he is not on the academic chessboard for life.
Oct 20 2020 at 9:20pm
Would you like to place a bet, then?
Oct 20 2020 at 11:20pm
With an anonymous person? No.
Oct 20 2020 at 7:49pm
Is it sadistic to believe that immigration policy should be consistent with the immigration law, and that increased immigration, desirable as it might be, should follow a change in law?
Oct 29 2020 at 4:39pm
“If your idea of freedom is gleefully denying the vast majority of humanity the rights to live and work where they please, I am not on your side.”
In the case of Europe, that means Europeans in Caplan’s eyes are under a moral obligation to turn Europe into something resembling the Islamic part of Nigeria, in other words a hell hole. Oh wait: two more people have just been beheaded by someone in Nice screaming “Allahu Akbar”. The “resemblance” seems to be arriving a teensy bit quicker than I expected.
Nov 2 2020 at 12:04pm
Hmm, this post didn’t age well.
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